Health & Wellbeing

Does Eating Breakfast Help Your Performance in School?

Boy at the breakfast table with an orange in his mouth

According to a Kellogg's study, thousands of children in the North of England regularly arrive at school with empty stomachs. Teachers say it has become normal for pupils to skip breakfast and start classes hungry and distracted. One fifth claim hungry pupils are a drain on their time and attention. One third say children who skip breakfast are incapable of learning. 

New research says 1 in 9 schoolkids loses the equivalent of six hours of learning per week due to hunger. It's around three weeks per term or (roughly) a fifth of the academic year. When you consider the fact hunger is linked to poor math scores, attention problems and emotional instability, it's easy to see why the study is concerning child development experts.  

The effects of a balanced breakfast include boosts to alertness, comprehension, memory and more. So, let's take a closer look at the brilliance of brekkie and why it's vital for kids to fuel up before school. 

The Mental Impact 

Children who eat breakfast demonstrate better concentration than those who skip the morning meal. Paediatricians say a healthy breakfast improves learning capacity and, particularly, mathematics performance. In a 2013 neuroscience study, children who ate breakfast were better at problem solving, more willing to partake in class discussions and more likely to get the highest grades. 

Numerous studies identify breakfasts high in protein and complex carbohydrates as the best for boosting school performance.

Click to read more about the impact of breakfast on preparedness to learn.

The Physical Impact

The biggest physical benefit of eating breakfast is the increase in energy that comes with a balanced combination of carbs and protein. Complex carbohydrates are especially valuable because they provide slow release energy that helps children stay alert for longer. This enables them to participate in core lessons, physical education and extracurricular activities to the best of their ability.  

Children who eat a healthy breakfast every day are, typically, in better health. They have a lower risk of obesity and need fewer sick days. 

The Emotional Impact

Breakfast has also been shown to have a positive effect on morning mood. In a 2002 study, 26% of self confessed 'moody risers' experienced dramatic improvements in happiness after switching to a consistent breakfast routine. Interestingly, some studies claim this impact is slightly higher for female children than males.

In several studies, girls performed slightly better at school and exhibit greater improvements in mood after eating a combination of protein and carbohydrate rich foods.   

Building a Healthy, Balanced Breakfast

For breakfast to have a positive impact on academic performance, it must provide slow release energy and protein, plus some vitamins and minerals. Though common in many households, sugary cereals are a poor choice because they cause blood sugar levels to spike. This results in a temporary burst of energy and, later, a dramatic dip in energy that negatively affects mood, concentration and alertness.

The healthiest breakfast choices include whole grains (oatmeal, brown bread, wholegrain cereals such as Weetabix), vegetables (avocado, tomato, spinach), fruits (berries, bananas, oranges) and high quality proteins (eggs, beans, tofu). Where possible, parents should also include a calcium source such as cheese, milk or low sugar yoghurt.

Being Prepared to Eat Breakfast Every Day

The more consistent their morning routine, the more likely a family is to eat breakfast every day. Encouraging children to go to bed at a reasonable hour makes it more likely they'll wake with plenty of time to eat and prepare for the day. If time is an issue, options like granola bars, wholegrain sandwiches, egg wraps and veggie burritos can be made quickly and eaten on the go.

Avoid sugary cereal bars, granola and muesli. Often, 'on the go' foods - such as portable porridge pots - contain surprisingly high levels of sugar.   

Image sourced from beyondbreakfast.org